Severe viral lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI), resulting in both acute and long-term pulmonary disease, constitutes a substantial burden among young children. Viral LRTI triggers local oxidative stress pathways by infection and inflammation, and supportive care in the pediatric intensive care unit may further aggravate oxidative injury. The main goal of this exploratory study was to identify and monitor breath markers linked to oxidative stress in children over the disease course of severe viral LRTI. Exhaled breath was sampled during invasive ventilation, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were analyzed using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. VOCs were selected in an untargeted principal component analysis and assessed for change over time. In addition, identified VOCs were correlated with clinical parameters. Seventy breath samples from 21 patients were analyzed. A total of 15 VOCs were identified that contributed the most to the explained variance of breath markers. Of these 15 VOCs, 10 were previously linked to pathways of oxidative stress. Eight VOCs, including seven alkanes and methyl alkanes, significantly decreased from the initial phase of ventilation to the day of extubation. No correlation was observed with the administered oxygen dose, whereas six VOCs showed a poor to strong positive correlation with driving pressure. In this prospective study of children with severe viral LRTI, the majority of VOCs that were most important for the explained variance mirrored clinical improvement. These breath markers could potentially help monitor the pulmonary oxidative status in these patients, but further research with other objective measures of pulmonary injury is required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-399
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024


  • LRTI
  • mechanical ventilation
  • oxidative stress
  • respiratory syncytial virus
  • volatile organic compounds

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